That’s a Great Question

Albert Einstein famously said, “Question everything,” but it was Jesus who practiced what Einstein preached. Contrary to popular assumptions, Jesus was not a robotic Answer Man; he was more like the Great Questioner. According the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), Jesus asks over 300 questions during his earthly ministry. Surprisingly, he answers only three. That’s quite a ratio, but it aligns with the m.o. of Yahweh in the Old Testament. God was known for asking his people lots of questions, too. Like Father like Son.

Now, if omniscience asks questions, it’s not to ellicit information; it’s to reveal it. In everyday life, our responses to the questions put to us have a way of exposing our hopes, fears, values, passions, and aspirations. They unveil our muddled thinking and our gaps in understanding. They demonstrate our innovation and creativity. They uncover our souls, for as Jesus said, “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34).

Asking questions can unlock learning and enhance interpersonal bonding, provided they’re not impossible “gotcha” questions designed to intimidate or humiliate (e.g., “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?”). Jesus doesn’t work for cable news. He works for his heavenly Father, who deeply desires a relationship with every human being, his highest order of creation. Since relationships by nature are dynamic and reciprocal, questions are part of the interaction between God and humanity. There’s give-and-take and back-and-forth—a rhythm of geneuine conversation allowing both parties to play the role of a subject, not merely an object.

Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Alison Wood Brooks and Leslie K. John have noted, “The wellspring of all questions is wonder and curiosity and a capacity for delight. We pose and respond to queries in the belief that the magic of a conversation will produce a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Sustained personal engagement and motivation—in our lives as well as our work—require that we are always mindful of the transformative joy of asking and answering questions.”

God doesn’t ask questions because he needs to know. He asks questions to reveal and relate. Yes, we might have some questions for God in the life to come—who doesn’t?—but God has some questions for us in the life we have now. Why not spend some time relating to him over some of the questions he’s already asked?

Questions God may ask us about our EMOTIONAL life.

  • “Why are you angry?” (Gen 4:6b) 
  • “Why are you crying?” (John 20:15b)
  • “If even the smallest things are beyond your control, why are you anxious about the rest?” (Luke 12:26)

Questions God may ask us about our THOUGHT life.

  • “Have you never read the Scriptures?” (Matt 21:42a)
  • “Why are you thinking such things in your heart?” (Mark 2:8b)
  • “Do you not yet understand?” (Matt 16:8)
  • “Are even you likewise without understanding?” (Mark 7:18)

Questions God may ask us about our PHYSICAL life.

  • “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Cor 6:19a)
  • “Do you want to be well?” (John 5:6b)
  • Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? (Isaiah 55:2)
  • “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:36a)

Questions God may ask us about our INTERPERSONAL life.

  • “What are you discussing as you walk along?” (Luke 24:17)
  • “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man?” (Luke 10:36a)
  • “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8b)
  • “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?” (Matt 5:46)

Questions God may ask us about our SPIRITUAL life.

  • “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9)
  • “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (Gen 3:11b)
  • “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Gen 18:14)
  • “What is your name?” (Gen 32:27a)
  • “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and not do what I command?” (Luke 6:46)
  • “Do you love me?” (John 21:16)

Questions God may ask us about our MISSIONAL life.

  • “Whom shall I send?” (Isa 6:8b)
  • “What is that in your hand?” (Exod 4:2b)
  • “How many loaves do you have?” (Mark 8:5)
  • “Are there not twelve hours in a day?” (John 11:9)
  • “Do you see this woman?” (Luke 7:44b)

Maybe the most all-encompassing question God could ask us is this one: “Where have you come from, and where are you going?” (Gen 16:8b). Certainly the most important question he could ask was raised by his Son, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matt 16:15). The two questions are actually related.

So, grab a cup of coffee, pull up a seat, and “have a little talk with Jesus,” as the old gospel song puts it.

The Christ Community, Part 3: The Church as the People of God (1 Peter 2:4-12)

One of the most tragic changes Christianity has experienced in the last 50 years is the minimizing of the centrality of the local church in the life of believers. The Lord’s Day used to be considered sacred. It was dedicated to the worship and service of God, but now it’s treated like any other day. And local church life, which was once considered indispensable to the Christian life, is now treated like an extra-curricular activity rather than an essential part of our spiritual formation. 

In his book, Set Apart: Calling a Worldly Church to a Godly Life, Kent Hughes presents six images describing today’s “de-churching” trends—trends that are held even by those who wish to retain some sort of connection to the historic Christian faith:

  • Hitchhiker Christianity
  • Cafeteria (or Consumer) Christianity
  • Spectator Christianity
  • Drive-through Christianity
  • Relationless Christianity
  • Churchless Christianity

It’s hard to square these images with the lofty vision of the church found in the New Testament. In 1 Peter 2:4-12, for example, the Apostle Peter sets his sights extremely high. He writes to 1st-century believers about their continued need for Jesus, their continued need for each other, and their continued need for a genuine spiritual commitment. He knows they won’t make it or be effective in this world without these three things. In this message, we learn that the people of God are living stones being built together by Jesus Christ to reverse a crumbling world. Masonry imagery is used to describe both Christ and the church he is building:

  • Jesus is the living stone. (4a)
  • Jesus is the rejected stone. (4b, 7a)
  • Jesus is the chosen stone. (4c, 6a)
  • Jesus is the precious stone. (4d, 6a)
  • Jesus is the cornerstone. (6a, 7a)
  • Jesus is the capstone. (7b)
  • Jesus is the stumbling stone. (8)
  • Jesus is the coming stone. (12)

To the masonry image, Peter adds the temple and priesthood metaphor in his description of the church:

  • We are living stones. (5a)
  • We are a spiritual house in progress. (5b)
  • We are worshippers with direct access to God. (5c)
  • We are a chosen people. (9a)
  • We are a royal priesthood. (9b)
  • We are a holy nation. (9c)
  • We are a people belonging to God. (9d)
  • We are a people of praise. (9e)
  • We are a people called out of darkness into light. (9f)
  • We are the recipients of divine mercy. (10)
  • We are aliens and strangers in the world. (12)

Peter cites numerous Old Testament passages to make his case. He calls the people of God to live good lives and subdue the war around us (v. 12). But for that to happen, the church must also live godly lives and subdue the war within us (v. 11). The challenge is great, which is why drive-through Christianity doesn’t cut it. 

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

Bunnies Are Cute, Right?

I’ve been wondering for the past several years why the rose bushes in our backyard never flourish. Two days ago I got my answer. The neighborhood bunny thinks they’re a snack. Actually, we have a family of bunnies living under the massive holly tree across from our patio near the property line. These little fur balls are cute, but I’d like to remove their tastebuds during the spring and summer months. 

Usually skittish at my approach, the puffy rascal just kept munching away as I walked toward it. Only at the last moment did it hop away, proud of its larceny and subsequent escape. I’ve since learned that rabbits can safely eat all parts of a rose bush, including the flower petals, stems, leaves, everything. The good news is they haven’t discovered the roses in my front yard.

The rest of our cultivation projects are doing well, including the zinnias, petunias, marigolds, and sundry bushes. Even the garden has started producing. The tomatoes will take another month or two, but the lettuce is ready to go now. I’d happily share some of that with the bunnies in exchange for keeping my roses. 

The post-bunny rose bush.
A bunny-free rose bush in the front yard.
Another variety of rose bush in the front.
These roses are lighter and more delicate than the sultry Lincolns.
Most of the petunias transplanted well.
A white petunia taking hold.
Wave petunias work well in hanging baskets, and they’re a lot cheaper when you plant them yourself rather than buying them pre-assembled.
The daylilies (which aren’t really lilies) are beginning to unfold.
A few of the daylily buds have already opened.
A row of lettuce in the garden box. I’ll exchange some of this with the bunnies to keep my roses.
For a city boy like me, watching food go from the garden to the table is a real delight.
Tomato cages in the garden box.
Peppers in the garden box.
A happy cluster out back by the shed.
The one remaining rose in the backyard that the bunny hasn’t discovered yet. Game on, ya little booger. 🙂

The Christ Community, Part 2: The Church as God’s New Humanity (Ephesians 2:11-18)

Ever since Genesis 3, it has been hard for people to get along. We’re all so different, and, because of our fallenness, those differences can annoy us, threaten us, and make us suspicious of one another. In jealousy, envy, and pride, we tend to think, say, and do nasty things to each other, making life unpleasant at times.

In the first century, there were two groups of people who didn’t get along very well—Jews and Gentiles. The Jews were descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob. The Gentiles were everybody else. Both latent and overt hostility marked their relationship over the centuries. Paul addresses that enmity in Ephesians 2, and he talks about what God has done to rectify it. The solution he offers is still relevant today because the world is more polarized now than ever. In recent years we have witnessed a growing hostility between races, classes, genders, and political parties. The tension is exhausting and disillusioning. 

How can God take widely diverse and disparate people and put them successfully into one new group? Paul’s answer is Jesus. Why? Because “he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace” (Eph 2:14-15).

Paul argues that the source of alienation between Jew and Gentile—God’s law—was put on the shelf (2:15a) because the source of reconciliation—God’s Son—was put on the cross (2:13b, 16b). Human beings may be hostile to each other, but God treated his perfect Son as if he were all the world’s hostility rolled into one. And when Christ died on the cross, the Father regarded the hostility itself as having died, too. God’s purpose was to create one new humanity out of the two—a horizontal hostility replaced with horizontal peace (2:15b).

The result is that irreligious people (like the Gentiles, who thought they are “far off”) can now hear and believe the gospel of peace (2:17a). Religious people (like the Jews, who thought they are already near) can hear and believe that same gospel (2:17b). All are “far off” because of sin, but all can “draw near” now because of Jesus. God is wise in this regard. All who draw near to him wind up drawing near to each other, too. Indeed, the only way to fully experience the God who is community is to participate fully in his new community—the church.

That’s not always easy because we’re all different. But believers who draw near to God bear the marks of unity in diversity. That’s why Paul cites the Trinity two times in this passage (2:18, 22). God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are the ultimate model for the church—a community of truth, love, and unity in diversity.

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

A Little Bit of This and That

1. Happy birthday to my mother-in-law, Lorena, who turned 83 a couple days ago. Family from North Carolina came to see her this past week, and more will be coming from Delaware this Memorial Day weekend. Nancy Reagan once described Alzheimer’s Disease as “a long goodbye.” I might add, “a long and sad goodbye.” Lorena is most like herself when she prays. That’s why we secretly hope she never says, “Amen.” Alas, all prayers conclude at some point, and the mundane tasks of life resume. Those tasks are now exceedingly difficult for her, but she can still experience the love and joy of family, even inside the fog of a mind devoid of all short-term memory. 

2. National Conference was inspirational this year, in large measure because of the Grace Community Church (Willow Street, PA) worship team, led by David Julian and Alyssa Mayersky. This pair is Southeastern Pennyslvania’s answer to Kari Jobe and Cody Carnes. I’m so glad they use their incredible gifts for the glory of God. Note to Dave and Alyssa: When you sing Goodness of God and The Blessing back to back, it just leads to some “ugly crying” on the part of us delegates! 🙂 Keep up the great work; we appreciate it! (Thankfully, Alyssa has a YouTube channel.) Dr. Doug Buckwalter’s devotionals were also insightful, inspirational, and uplifting. What a blessing to be his student many years ago, and now his colleague on the seminary faculty. And, as always, Bishop Bruce Hill was the picture of competency, joy, and common sense.

3. “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” So said the esteemed poet Maya Angelou. This week marks the anniversary of her death in 2014. Thankfully, Amanda Gorman is well on her way to reaching a similar stature that Angelou enjoyed. Political quibbles aside, I love her ability to capture a moment with energy, flair, and creativity.

4. I’m loving the meat smoker I got for Christmas in 2019. Applewood chips are the best for smoking chicken, which I think I’ve nailed—if I may so myself. Ha! 🙂 With my brother-in-law’s rub recipe, it’s the best way to prepare it by far. Alas, I’m still learning the best techniques for pork and beef. Those meats are a little harder to get just right. I guess I’ll just have to keep trying!

5. Life has apparently come full circle. I’m heading out soon to a dance recital for my daughter, who first tapped in public many years ago as Minnie Mouse. Today she’ll be a grown-up “Momma Mouse” of sorts. I’m hoping her flair for dance will help the little guy (or gal) inside her to inherit much better rhythm than I have. 🙂

6. Today’s weather reminded me that Enya sings a lot of songs about rain. One of these days I may compile them all into a single post. “Echoes in Rain” from Dark Sky Island is the one pulsating through my head right now. One reviewer describes the piece as featuring “a buoyant optimism due to the marching rhythmic ostinatos and pizzicato strings.” That’s an apt description—which is really saying something since most critics give us little more than piffle and perfidy when they’re deconstructing other people’s art.

7. Here’s a song that’s new to our congregation, based on a question from the Heidelberg Catechism of 1563. It’s called “Christ Our Hope in Life and Death” by Keith and Kristyn Getty, and Matt Papa. I’m loving it!

What is our hope in life and death?
Christ alone, Christ alone
What is our only confidence?
That our souls to Him belong 
Who holds our days within His hand?
What comes, apart from His command?
And what will keep us to the end?
The love of Christ, in which we stand 

O sing Hallelujah!
Our hope springs eternal
O sing Hallelujah!
Now and ever we confess
Christ our hope in life and death

What truth can calm the troubled soul? 
God is good, God is good
Where is His grace and goodness known?
In our great Redeemer’s blood 
Who holds our faith when fears arise?
Who stands above the stormy trial?
Who sends the waves that bring us nigh
Unto the shore, the rock of Christ 

O sing Hallelujah!
Our hope springs eternal
O sing Hallelujah!
Now and ever we confess
Christ our hope in life and death

Unto the grave, what shall we sing?
“Christ, He lives; Christ, He lives!”
And what reward will heaven bring?
Everlasting life with Him 
There we will rise to meet the Lord
Then sin and death will be destroyed 
And we will feast in endless joy
When Christ is ours forevermore

O sing Hallelujah!
Our hope springs eternal
O sing Hallelujah!
Now and ever we confess
Christ our hope in life and death

O sing Hallelujah!
Our hope springs eternal
O sing Hallelujah!
Now and ever we confess
Christ our hope in life and death

Have a blessed holiday weekend!


UPDATE: Bethany’s group did a tap dance routine to Aretha Franklin’s “Think.” It was a marvelous performance, even though it looked exhausting. The choreography called for heel clicks but no wings, which she really wanted to do. Watching her on stage brought back memories of past recitals, not to mention the emotions that go with them. (“Is this the little girl I carried? Sunrise, sunset….” Ha!) Anyway, the song is another example of why Aretha is the real Queen of Soul.

You need me (need me) 
And I need you (don’t you know?)
Without each other there ain’t nothing either can do
Yeah!

The Christ Community, Part 1: The Church of Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:13-20; 18:15-20)

What on earth is the church, and why are we here? All authoritative answers to these questions must begin with Jesus, who said, “I will build my church” (Matt 16:18). Since the church is his church, and he is building it, there’s no better place to begin our inquiry than Christ himself. Therefore, in part 1 of this series, we focus on Jesus’ two uses of the word “church” in the Gospel of Matthew, along with its Old Testament background. His first reference speaks of “the Church Universal,” and his second reference speaks of “the Church Local.” What do these expressions mean, and how do they relate? 

Quite significantly, the Hebrew word qahal denotes an assembly of Israelites, especially when gathered before the Lord as a “saved” or “rescued” covenant people. When the Greek Old Testament (called the Septuagint) translates qahal, it uses the word ekklesia, which means “group,” “assembly,” “community,” or “congregation.” In secular usage, it meant the gathering of people at a town hall meeting. In sacred usage, it meant the gathering of believers for worship, prayer, and mission.

In our day, the word ekklesia comes into English as “church,” which always refers in Scripture to a “saved” or “rescued” covenant people, never to a building. Let that sink in for a moment. The church of Jesus Christ, according to the New Testament, is a people, not a building. It is people that Christ is building.

As suggested by Jesus’ two uses of the word ekklesia, “the Church Universal” refers to the community of all true believers in every age and in every place. By contrast, “the Church Local” is a community of professing believers at a certain time and in a certain place. The rest of the New Testament bears out this important distinction. 

At its most basic level, then, the church of Jesus Christ is a community of believers rescued from sin and released for service. It’s God’s new society. And it’s still very much alive around the world today. No, it’s not yet perfect, but it is perfectible, and it will be perfect when Christ has finished his building.

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

A Good Day in the Flowerbeds

Today was mulching day at our house. Right before that it was trim-back-the-stems day for our numerous perennials (mostly tulips and daffodils), followed by weeding as much as possible before the placement of mulch. I wouldn’t say that my thumb is entirely green, yet, but I’m incredibly happy with how it all turned out.

  • The rose bushes have begun to flower.
  • The rhododendron bush has begun to pop. 
  • The zinnias have adapted after transplant.
  • The petunias (most of them) are doing well.
  • The jacks in the pulpit are now free to spread out.

Alas, one of the azalea bushes needed to be removed because of disease. Additionally, the dogwood tree will probably need to be removed this fall. For the past three years we’ve been trying to nurse it back to health, but it seems to have run its course. A handful of petunias didn’t take root, either, so I’ll be replacing them next week.

The good news is that I’ll probably be getting my Japanese maple this fall, along with another dogwood tree and some new landscaping at the southwest corner of the house. I also saw some geraniums at the seminary golf tournament this past week, and they looked marvelous, so those cuties might have a future in our flowerbeds, too.

Growing up in a city row home never allowed for this kind of cultivation, but I’m digging it now. (Sorry, cheap pun intended.) Seriously, the beauty of creation is inspiring, and Pennsylvania seasons are the best.

Puddles the Popsicle (and Some Family News)

Note: Here’s a personal journal entry from November 1999, with a bit of family news at the end.

How could I explain the sacrificial death of Jesus to a child? Rather than slogging through the theories of well-meaning theologians, here’s a simple story I told my seven-year-old daughter Bethany a few weeks ago. Nearly every night when I tuck her in, she asks me to either cuddle with her or tell her a bedtime story. I always give her the option of reading a story or making one up. On this particular night, she asked me to make one up. I wasn’t really prepared for that, so I sent up a quick S.O.S. to the Lord in prayer and asked him to help me communicate something that would draw Bethany closer to him. Here’s the gist of what came out.


Once upon a time in a place called Candy Land, there lived a family of four M&Ms. There was a red one, a blue one, a green one, and a yellow one. Two of them were the kind with a little nut inside. The other two were plain, but still delicious. Their names were Slippy, Drippy, Tippy, and Pippy. The Candy Maker who made them, loved them, and wanted to protect them, so he told them to stay out of the sun. “You will melt if you stay out in the sun,” he said.  “In fact, you will die.”

But sure enough, the four M&Ms didn’t obey the Candy Maker. “We want adventure,” they said. “It’s a beautiful day outside, and we want to experience the sun in all of its warmth and beauty.” At first, nothing happened. They just got a little softer inside, but the hard candy shell kept everything hidden. “We’re o.k.,” they said. “Nothing’s going to happen. Besides, this is kinda fun!” 

But over time, the M&Ms started feeling sick. Eventually, they totally melted on the inside, and they were about ready to die. They were scared and started calling out to the Candy Maker for help. “Please, Mr. Candy Maker, please, we need your help!”

And even though the Candy Maker was saddened by their behavior—and a bit angry that the M&Ms had disobeyed him—he loved them so much, he decided to help. With a firm commitment to the safety of his M&Ms, he sent his favorite treat from the candy shop to go rescue them, Puddles the Popsicle. 

Puddles was a frozen, squeezy kind of Popsicle, the kind that comes in a plastic tube. Puddles loved the M&Ms just as much as the Candy Maker. In fact, Puddles was just like the Candy Maker in every way. They seemed to think alike about everything.

So Puddles the Popsicle came to where the M&Ms were lying in the heat, melting and suffering—about ready to die. And Puddles, in love, lay down beside the M&Ms, wrapping his frozen body around them to shield them from the sun. It sure was a hot day, but Puddles was able to transfer all his chill from himself to the M&Ms so that they could become firm and hard and safe again, just like before.  

Sadly, however, in the process of saving the M&Ms from melting, Puddles himself started to melt. In fact, he completely thawed out and became nothing but a lifeless tube of popsicle juice. There, beneath the blazing rays of the mean old sun, the benevolent Puddles died for his friends.

This made the M&Ms very sad. Certainly, they were glad to be alive themselves, but they were now terribly sorry for not listening to the Candy Maker in the first place. But the Candy Maker was so pleased at the beautiful thing Puddles the Popsicle did for his M&M friends, that he blew some fluffy white clouds in front of the sun. And then he caused the temperature in Candy Land to drop quickly, all the way down to below freezing.

When that happened, Puddles the Popsicle became frozen again. He came back to life! And everybody was overjoyed. In fact, they were all so happy that they decided to get together once a week and celebrate what Puddles had done for them. Twice a year they especially celebrated, remembering with food, fun, and music the day Puddles came, and the day he came back to life again. 

In time, Puddles went back to the candy shop to be with the Candy Maker. (They were so much alike, you just couldn’t keep them apart.) But he promised to come back again one day. In fact, he was such a wonderful Popsicle, it was like he had never left in the first place. And everybody in Candy Land lived happily ever after.

Not the labors of my hands / Can fulfill Thy laws’ demands
Could my zeal no respite know / Could my tears forever flow
All for sin could not atone / Thou must save and Thou alone.

Bethany got the point of this little story. I know she got the point because I asked her to draw a picture of what it meant. And she drew for me the four M&Ms and Puddles the Popsicle, and the blazing sun. And there in the middle of the page she drew a diagonal line, on the other side of which was a portrait of Jesus. My seven-year-old got the point. Do you?


I suppose I need to start brushing up on my storytelling abilities for children. In about six and a half months, Lord willing, Bethany is going to deliver her first M&M. I’m eager to meet the child. I’m even more eager for the child to meet Puddles the Popsicle.

“I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him [or her] to the Lord” (1 Samuel 1:27-28a).

The Lord’s Prayer for Us: Why and What Jesus Prays for His Followers (John 17:6-24)

If you knew that you were going to die tomorrow at 3 p.m., what would you do tonight at 9 p.m.? Who would you be with? How would you spend your time? What would be the final memory you give yourself before stepping into eternity? That’s the situation we find in John 13-17, the account of Jesus and his disciples in the Upper Room. 

Jesus knows he’s going to die in about 18 hours. He doesn’t have the privilege of ignorance like we do when it comes to our own departure. Most people don’t usually know when they’re going to breathe their last, but Jesus knows exactly when he’s going to die. He also knows that he’ll be betrayed by one of his followers. He knows he’ll be unjustly tried and rejected by his own people. He knows he’ll be mocked, flocked, and crucified like a common criminal. 

In the face of such an ordeal, Jesus decides to spend his last night with his closest friends. He wants to be with them so he can prepare them for his absence. To that end, he will teach them, encourage them, love them, and pray for them. Yes, pray for them! What must it have been like to be the subject of Jesus’ prayer? Many people have heard of the Lord’s Prayer, but John 17 records the Lord’s Prayer for us—not the prayer we pray to him but the prayer he prays for us, his followers. The prayer unfolds in three segments:

  • In vv. 1-5 , Jesus prays for himself.
  • In vv. 6-19, Jesus prays for his first-century disciples.
  • In vv. 20-24, Jesus prays for his future disciples.

Speaking to the heavenly Father, Jesus says, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20-21).

If you are a follower of Christ, be encouraged by the fact that you were on the Lord’s heart and mind the night before he was executed. Moreover, Jesus has not stopped praying for you. Hebrews 7:25 teaches that Jesus “ever lives to make intercession” for his people. What that means for us today is that the Christ to whom we pray is also praying for us. Naturally, we can conclude that the prayers of Jesus work! They get through. They get the job done. James 5:16 says, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective,” and they don’t come any more righteous than Jesus. He was the sinless Son of God!

While the text of Jesus’ prayer is virtually inexhaustible, this particular message focuses on WHY Jesus prays for his followers (17:6-11a) and WHAT Jesus prays for his followers (17:11b-24). It can be a tremendous source of encouragement for believers to know that Jesus is praying for us at this very moment.

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

Holy Trinity Church in Oxford: Where C. S. Lewis Worshiped and Is Buried

The magic of England never fades for the true Anglophile. I posted earlier this year on our trip to The Kilns: Where C. S. Lewis Lived and Wrote, but I didn’t include pictures of Holy Trinity Church in Oxford, where Lewis worshiped and is buried. At long last, here are those pictures.

Our tour guide was a good friend of Lewis’s back in the day. He was also a Royal Air Force Veteran of World War II, which gave us plenty to talk about. We thanked him for his bravery and service, but he said it was the United States’ entry into the war that saved the world from the evil Nazi delusion. He had wonderful “Jack” Lewis stories to share that don’t usually make their way into the biographies and textbooks.

Lewis died at the Kilns on November 22, 1963, the same day as Aldous Huxley and President John F. Kennedy. Few people attended the Lewis funeral because they didn’t know he had passed. His brother Warnie went on a bender to soothe his depression, rendering him incapable of spreading the word. Moreover, the print and radio news cycles were dominated that week by the assassination of the American President. 

Lewis’ final years were happy ones. From charity and common literary interests grew a deep friendship with American poet and pen pal Joy Davidman. Her acquaintance with Lewis led to his underwriting the boarding school education of her sons David and Douglas. Eventually agape became eros for this charming if improbable couple, and they were married in 1956.

Joy was nearly 17 years Lewis’s junior, which only served to enrich the happiness of their marriage. Experience, enthusiasm, and an array of common interests combined to provide the needed chemistry. A savage case of cancer, however, cut short their life together. After several years of reprieve from an earlier and nearly fatal bout with cancer, Joy Lewis passed away on July 13, 1960.

Still, Joy’s entry into Jack’s life brought much happiness. As he wrote to one friend soon after their marriage, “It’s funny having at 59 the sort of happiness most men have in their twenties . . . ‘Thou hast kept the good wine till now.’ ” 

Lewis is buried beside his brother (who lived ten more years) in the cemetery of Holy Trinity Church, Headington Quarry, Oxford. His letters and books, and the lives these writings touch, are his enduring legacy.

The gravestone for Lewis and his brother, Major Warren “Warnie” Lewis, reads, “Men must endure their going hence,” the Shakespeare quotation on their father’s calendar the day their mother died. 

Time to Plant the Annuals

Mother’s Day is the calendar marker for planting annuals in the flower beds around our house, so I’ll be getting my hands dirty this week. We’re trying some new things this year, and we’ll see how it goes. Pictures of the real flowers will come later. The ones below are stock photos showing the ideal.

For the front and side flower beds, I got red and yellow Zinnias to plant, with a few lavenders poking through. They stand about 12” tall right now and supposedly do well in the sun. I chose them to match the color and vibrancy of the tulips, which I adored while they were here. Hopefully they’ll do just as well.

In front of the Zinnias will go the shorter red and white petunias. Last year’s impatiens didn’t do very well, so we’re giving these a try. The flowers are a bit larger than the imaptiens, so if they thrive, the beds will look nice when they emerge.

For the hanging baskets (4 on the front porch, 4 on the back patio, and 2 on my mother-in-law’s patio), we’re trying red, white, and purple wave petunias this year. It will take a while for them to start “waving,” but they’re much cheaper when you assemble the baskets yourself. I suppose it will be my lesson in patience this year. Alas, like Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka, “I want it now!”

My mother-in-law will also get a bed of yellow French marigolds. They are her favorites, and we think she may still have enough capacity to putter around and enjoy them this year.

Below are some unrelated pictures that recently caught my eye. The first is my summer home. 🙂 The second is my summer transportation. 🙂 And the third is a brain teaser. Can you tell what it is? (If you get stumped, turn your phone, tablet, or laptop upside down.)

Have a great week!

Here Comes the Judge: How and Why We Celebrate Divine Judgment (Psalm 98:1-9)

Christians sing it every Christmas season, even though it’s not primarily a carol about the birth of Jesus. It’s much broader than that. The words are familiar to believers in English-speaking countries:

Joy to the world, the Lord is come
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing 

Joy to the world, the Savior reigns
Let men their songs employ
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy 

He rules the world with truth and grace
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness
And wonders of His love

So wrote Isaac Watts, who lived from 1674 to 1748. Significantly, his inspiration for “Joy to the World” was not Luke 2 but Psalm 98. In fact, Watts himself said, “I have formed out of the 98th Psalm…what I esteem to be the first and chief sense of the Holy Scriptures.” In other words, it’s all here—the whole gospel, the overarching message of Scripture, and it leads to jubilant worship. Historically, the church has called Psalm 98 the Cantate Domino (“O Sing to the Lord”). Similar to Psalm 96, it calls for jubilant praise to God, and it provides a compelling rationale.

Psalm 98 divides nicely into three stanzas. In the first stanza, the author instructs the people of God to worship the Lord because he has been a GREAT SAVIOR (vv. 1-3). “Sing to the Lord a new song,” he writes, “for he has done marvelous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.” Over the centuries, Yahweh has been to Israel “the God of rescue,” most prominently in the great exodus from Egypt and the great return from exile in Babylon.

In the second stanza, he tells the covenant people to worship the Lord because he is the REIGNING KING (vv. 4-6). He writes, “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music…shout for joy before the Lord, the King” (v. 4, 6). Moreover, all kinds of instruments are to be used to supplement the music and shouts in order to celebrate the King (vv. 5-6).

In the third stanza, the author says to worship the Lord because he is the COMING JUDGE (vv. 7-9). As the Apostles Creed says, “He will come again to judge the living and the dead.” Specifically, the psalmist calls for all of humanity and all of nature to celebrate this Judge and his coming judgment. But that’s what makes this composition seem a bit odd to us in our day. We don’t usually think of divine judgment as an event to be celebrated. Rather, we think of it as an event to be dreaded. Consequently, some people have dismissed the idea of an end-time judgment altogether. But that only leads to other problems we don’t like.

On the one hand, if there is no future judgment, what hope is there for the world? Evil stands, the scales of justice remain unbalanced, and all the horrors, abuse, and trauma inflicted on us during this life go unanswered. It is helpful to remember, however, that one biblical image of the future judgment is that God is the Judge, and we are the plaintiff. He hears our case. He rights the wrongs done to us. He satisfies our deep desire to have all things properly settled in the end.

On the other hand, if there is a future judgment, what hope is there for me? Haven’t I committed certain acts of evil during my life? Haven’t I transgressed God’s law at some point in time? Haven’t I committed sins against God and other people who are made in his image? If so, how can I escape the punishment due me? It is sobering to remember that one biblical image of the future judgment is that God is the Judge, and I am the defendant. The prospect of a cosmic trial, then, can be frightening.

But great relief can be found woven into the psalm itself, not to mention the trajectory it creates. There is hope for the world collectively and hope for me personally precisely because the coming Judge is also the historical Savior. In fact, the ultimate biblical image of the future judgment is that God is the Judge who has taken his people’s judgment himself. It’s the picture of a judge pronouncing the sentence, and then coming down off the bench to take the sentence he just imposed so the guilty party doesn’t have to. As Psalm 98 indicates, the Judge and the Savior are the same God.

When Mary, the mother of Jesus, learns that she will bear the Savior of the world, she hearkens back to portions of Psalm 98 (along with other sections of the Hebrew Bible).

Cantate Domino (Psalm 98) Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1)
“Sing to the Lord a new song.” (1a)“My soul glorifies the Lord.” (46)
“For he has done marvelous things.” (1b)“The Mighty One has done great things for me.” (49)
“His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.” (1c)“He has performed mighty deeds with his arm.” (51)
“The Lord has made his salvation known and revealed his righteousness to the nations.” (2)“His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.” (50)
“He has remembered his love and his faithfulness to the house of Israel.” (3a)“He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful.” (54)

In doing so, Mary alerts us to the intended fulfillment of Psalm 98 in her own Son, Jesus Christ—the Savior of the world to whom all final judgment has been committed (cf. John 5:22). The only way to celebrate the God of future judgment is to know him as the God of past salvation. Have you trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior—the one who has taken your judgment on the cross? If so, you have every reason to celebrate.

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

And Here Come the Azaleas

Here’s a teeny life update with a few extras—for no other reason than that I need a brief diversion from proffing, pastoring, lawyering, dissertating, and websiting. Life is good; it’s just a little thick right now. 

1. The brilliant petals on the tulips in our front yard have finally dropped. They lasted slightly longer than last year, but they’re naturally transient, so I had to bid them farewell. Fortunately, our azalea bushes are now popping. These flowering shrubs are admirably carrying the color torch passed on to them by the tulips. I dig ’em, even though they’re not my absolute favorite. I hope to get a Japanese maple some day, along with a replacement dogwood tree. I also love trees with white bark (see below). The grass in our neighborhood right now is a thick, lush, deep green. Heavenly.

2. I’m thoroughly enjoying my new Ford Edge. I finally learned how to use the display and all its apps. The moonroof is super cool, too. I’ve never had one of those. I can also open the hatch with my foot (as long as I have the key fob on me), which has come in handy several times already. It also closes at the touch of a button. Very convenient. My youth like to pile into it whenever we go for a McDonald’s run during Sunday school. But my cars haven’t always been on the newer side. When I was in high school, I drove a hideous 1973 Mercury Comet. Its color was indecipherable, but it was somewhere on the spectrum between Gulden’s mustard and burnt pumpkin pie. It had 4 doors and a brown vinyl top—a real chick magnet for a teenage boy. But, hey, it had a 302 engine. The only other car I had with that kind of pickup was a Mercury Grand Marquis with an 8-cylinder engine.

3. Our Keurig recently bit the dust, so I had to go get a new one. The upsides of the new unit are that (a) it wasn’t as expensive as I thought it would be, and (b) I like this one even better; it has more cup sizes and a bigger water reservoir. It also looks more stylish. No, I’m not addicted to coffee. I just drink it for the protection of those around me in the morning.

4. Our bathroom renovation project is slowly coming to an end. The list of missteps and mishaps is too long to mention, but soon it will be fully operational. Fortunately, we have two others to use in the interim—which has lasted eight months now instead of one. And these are the professionals doing it! That’s not a bust on them; it would have taken me a decade to do it myself given what they were up against. The latest mishap was their knocking over the medicine cabinet and shattering one of its three glass doors. The good news is that everything they’ve actually done or installed so far looks amazing. 

5. I preached the other week on Psalm 23, so I riffed on the cluelessness of sheep for a bit, underscoring why they (we) so desperately need a good shepherd. This brief video clip makes the point much better than I ever could.

6. This week’s song of the week at TNL, which I post every Monday, is Lauren Daigle and the Hillsong team singing “How Great Thou Art.” Lovely.

7. Charles Wesley’s “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” is required singing on Easter Sunday morning. Here’s a contemporary version with an added bridge. Not bad. 

8. Here’s the best thing you’re likely to see all day. A group of special folks recite Psalm 139 for us. As someone who was unplanned, unwanted, and unloved from the day of my conception until the day of my adoption 22 months later, I have always been moved and encouraged by the words of King David in this beautiful psalm. Charles Spurgeon once said, “Before we ever had a place in this world, we had a place in God’s heart.” Amen.

9. It’s been a long time since I published a “Just between You and Meme” post. I’ve been collecting good stuff, but I haven’t had time to pull it together. So here are just a few clippings that recently made me chuckle. (I’ll save the really good stuff for later.)

10. I’ve been working out at the local YMCA lately (cardio, weights, and swimming). I figured that since we all have to wear masks while on site, the rescue dummy should have to wear one, too. So, yesterday I gave him mine to use while I was in the pool. He didn’t resist. (BTW, that’s my new Batman towel at the bottom of the one picture. My mother-in-law got it for me for my birthday. When I use it, I feel invincible. Haha!)

11. I spent two decades loathing the mainstream media, but I think The Babylon Bee has a better approach. Just mock them mercilessly. Loathing takes too much energy, and it’s all negative energy. Sheesh, why bother? Yes, the Bee crosses the line sometimes, but the national mainstream media try to play us every single day. They’re just contemptible.

12. Supremely encouraged by so many blessings in the last five years. Of course, it helps when your spouse’s kingdom gifts are not only recognized but compensated. The best part is being able to give more. Home renovations are an added benefit. I can’t help thinking of Jenn Johnson’s song, “Goodness of God.” 

13. A former ICL student stopped by yesterday and expressed his appreciation for our ministry to him and also to enroll in seminary. He said thank you with Wilbur Buds. I wanted to say you’re welcome by eating them, but I’m trying to behave right now. Goals and all that. But how “sweet” of him to express his gratitude in that way. As my students have heard me say many times, “Chocolate is proof of God’s existence. Peanut butter is proof of his power. And the two together are proof of his goodness.”

And now…

May the Fourth be with you.

(And also with you. Hehe!)

Have a great week!


UPDATE: Mother’s Day is the time we usually plant impatiens in the front flower bed. Last year we did red and white, but the white ones didn’t do very well. We may try petunias this year. Any other suggestions?

Why Shouldn’t I Be Baptized? The Holy Spirit’s Role in Conversion (Acts 8:26-39)

The account of Philip and the Ethiopian is one of the great conversion stories in the book of Acts. Luke, volume 2 records how Christianity took hold in the 1st century world—a culture that was as resistant to the gospel as ours is today. In chapter 8, we have the case of an African being converted to Christ. In chapter 9, we have the case of a Jew being converted to Christ. In chapter 10, we have the case of a European being converted to Christ. And that’s just the tip of the ethnic iceberg. These conversions show us that Christianity is transcultural. That is, the gospel is for everyone, regardless of nation, race, people, or tongue. The gospel is for everyone because everyone needs the gospel.

Philip shares this gospel, and the Ethiopian official accepts it, but neither of these figures is the hero of the story. Philip is an obedient servant, to be sure, and thank God for it. But he and the other deacons in Jerusalem aren’t sitting around figuring out where the gospel should go next. They’re not developing strategies based on logic and demographic studies. They’re not having an evangelistic thrust because of some great burden for the lost. Something else gets them moving in a missional direction. Neither is the Ethiopian official the hero of the story. He’s an interesting and sympathetic figure—a foreigner to Israel, a wealthy and educated man, a high court official back home, and a person truly hungry for God—a man who has traveled nearly 2,000 miles to the temple in Jerusalem to worship the God of the Hebrews! But he’s not the hero of the story, either.

The story doesn’t begin with Philip or the Ethiopian. This story, like every story of salvation, begins with God. Verse 26, 29, and 39 all indicate that the Lord is the causal agent of everything good that happens in this encounter. Specifically, it’s the Holy Spirit—the third Person of the divine Trinity—who’s the hero of this story. Indeed, the Holy Spirit is the hero of every conversion story. The Holy Spirit is the life of God on planet earth, accomplishing the divine will. God the Father is in heaven, seated on his throne, ruling the universe. God the Son is at his right hand, serving as High Priest and Advocate for his people. God the Holy Spirit is on earth—executing the plan and purpose of heaven. 

God certainly uses his people to share the gospel with others, but it’s the Holy Spirit who’s prepared them to share it. And it’s the Holy Spirit who’s prepared people’s hearts to receive it. From beginning to end, then, it’s the Holy Spirit who orchestrates everything in a person’s conversion to Christ. That’s why churches must renew their dependence on the Holy Spirit for all that they do in seeking to fulfill the mission that God has given them. Including baptisms.

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

Rest, the Lord Is Near: Combating the Stresses of Life (Psalm 23:1-6)

Psalm 23 is one of the most popular texts in the Old Testament. Charles Spurgeon called it “the pearl of Psalms.” James Montgomery Boice called it “the most beloved of the 150 Psalms in the Psalter.” And J. P. McBeth called it “the greatest poem ever written.” It’s often read at funerals, or during times of profound grief and sadness. That’s appropriate, but King David’s composition is a psalm for life, not just death. Indeed, we likely need this psalm now more than ever.

Stress is a prominent reality of modern life. Never before in history have people been more anxious and overloaded than they are today. Life has always been hard on a fallen planet, but it seems to be getting harder. We live in an age of exploding technology that’s hard to keep up with; information overload that threatens to overwhelm us; political polarization that breeds cynicism and disillusionment; media manipulation that makes it hard to trust anything we see on our screens; a cancel culture that keeps people captive to the fear of other people’s judgments; a global pandemic with widespread disagreement over how best to navigate it. And, as many people have discovered, stress takes its toll physically and emotionally. As one book title says, The Body Keeps the Score.

What is stress? It’s the pressure, strain, and tension we feel whenever a situation or event demands more from us than we think we can give. The tell-tale sign we’re stressed out is when we find ourselves saying, “I just can’t handle this right now!” A well-mannered, kind-hearted young woman can turn into a screeching bridezilla in the run-up to her wedding. A tender, warm-hearted young man can turn into a cauldron of bitterness when there are more deadlines than time to meet them. People routinely suffer chronic stress as a result of financial woes, work pressure, bullying, relationship troubles, or the challenges of parenting. All of it can cause anxiety, irritability, depression, headaches, insomnia, and other serious physical or psychological symptoms.

How do we cope? How do we survive? How do we overcome the taxing stresses of life? How did King David do it? How did he cope? How did he overcome? After all, the “sweet singer of Israel” spent several years of his life being pursued by his enemies. On more than one occasion did a spear whizz by his ear and twang into the boards where he was lodging. Most people have never been on the receiving end of that kind of incoming enemy fire (police and military personnel excepted). And most of us have never spent a great deal of time living as a fugitive, running for our lives. David did. And yet he had a way of rising above the stresses of life. 

Psalm 23 gives us a clue as to how he did it. The composition is a declaration of trust and confidence in God despite all that was going on around him. Two main metaphors drive the poem: (1) God as David’s Shepherd (vv. 1-4); and (2) God as David’s Gracious Host (vv. 5-6). Together these metaphors paint a stunning portrait for us: God is the ultimate Shepherd-King to his people. People are the sheep of God’s flock and the guests of God’s kingdom. Now, sheep are essentially helpless and not particularly bright. That’s not a good combination, as the following video clip indicates:

People and sheep have a lot in common! They both desperately need a good shepherd! Thankfully, believers have one in Yahweh, the God of Israel. If David were here today, he might say to us, “Rest in the Lord who is with you and good to you.” Specifically, he might tell us to rest in the PROVISIONS of the Lord (vv. 1-3), the PRESENCE of the Lord (vv. 4-5), and PROMISES of the Lord (6). God is the caretaker and protector of his people, and he will ensure that they do not lack in basic needs as they navigate the stresses of this life. Rather, he pursues them with goodness and covenant love all the days of their lives (v. 6).

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.